Kicking off 2016, I looked back at 2015 at all the initiatives TechMill and our community members completed over the past year. We started off 2015 focusing on providing support to early stage startups, helping to connect with mentors and access to resources, and running the coworking space downtown. As the year went on, we picked up more on what the community needed versus what we were providing – a demand to increase technical resources. It wasn’t just startups, but local businesses, universities, and agencies needing technically talented individuals who are also looking to expand their professional skill set.
During an Oaktopia panel titled, “Denton’s Thriving Tech Startup Environment and Its Future” featuring various TechMill board members, local tech company leaders, city economic development, and even Michael Sitarzewski, who shared his experience of living in Boulder and currently with the greater DFW community. While the session should have been more over where we’re at right now, and where we’re going, I heard how and why Denton is ripe for startups and companies to move here. We have a great culture, low cost of living, and a creative environment, but there was a unanimous concern across with the panel – we need more technical talent.
The fact is we have thousands of students who love making this city their home year after year, but when no opportunities are available in town, they have no choice but to leave and find work elsewhere. The question I asked myself is: what are we missing and what can we do to help?
Last year we had the official announcement of the Railyard, the city-funded development that includes housing apartments, restaurants, and a collaborative office space (coworking). The coworking space and future technology hub of Denton will be managed by the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, who has a stellar track record for developing an ecosystem for startups, but the space won’t be ready until spring 2016. Until then, we started a backlog of events and workshops we can launch right now to assess this demand of tech experience.
We do have the technical talent here (development, design, marketing, etc), but there’s a few things we need to do:
- Encourage growth and personal development for all creatives in the community.
- Retain the current talented students graduating from local universities.
- Provide support for those students transitioning from an academic setting to real world application development by exposing them to current development practices and workflows.
Over the last year, TechMill started organizing more educational workshops under a series called Bootstrap Denton. We covered various topics like sales & contracts, web development, design, social media, etc. We saw an increase of attendees towards the end of 2015, and the trends strongly suggest that by providing these opportunities, we can achieve a number of goals:
- Increase the density / camaraderie in the tech community.
- Increase the citizen-engaged technology projects.
- Increase the technical resources for companies to move, start, and grow in Denton.
I’d like to introduce you to the TechMill Workshop Series. This is similar to The Iron Yard or Dev Mountain, both who launched programs in Dallas, gave us great feedback and support for our grassroots initiative. This means we’ll be starting our very own community-led series of tech classes across a variety of topics. In addition, by working with local universities and libraries, we can bring together all current publicly available classes to provide a single calendar for tech education. By tagging the classes with different categories, we can create pseudo tracks for people with different interests: front-end development, back-end development, big data, hardware, design, etc. Our most important goal is to reduce the barrier of entry by ensuring all course material is based on open source software and publicly available information. Our current topics include:
- iOS / Android
- Web Essentials
- WordPress / Drupal
- UX / UI
- Technology in Business (legal, marketing, sales, etc)
- Open Data / Data Science
- Hardware (Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, etc)
What’s the catch? There is no catch. The series is completely free to anyone wanting and willing to learn new technologies or improve their own professional skill set. The mentors are volunteering their time on a weekly/monthly basis, so this needs to be a community buy-in that recognizes this initiative as a benefit to the growth of the community and local companies, and as a byproduct, new economic development.
We’ll be starting classes soon, so if you’re interested in joining, check out our Meetup group at Meetup.com/TechMillDenton and we’ll see you soon!